PASADENA, Calif. — TV critics brawled with Michael Patrick King over his new CBS sitcom “2 Broke Girls” at Winter TV Press Tour 2012.
In one corner, there is King, who believes that because he’s a gay comedy writer who was the show-runner on “Sex and the City,” he gets to write lines in his new CBS sitcom about the funny speech of the Korean immigrant who runs the diner where the two broke girls wait on tables. He thinks he gets to, that is, so long as he also includes raunchy sex jokes and gags about the lecherous Russian who works in the kitchen and the old black guy who works the cash register and throws in a couple of Jewish jokes.
In the other corner, there are the TV critics who disagree with him. Strongly.
They immediately came out swinging.
“Michael, your show is known for broad racial and ethnic humor — ”
“Thank you!” King interrupted.
“‘Two Broke Girls,’ ” he continued, “is broad and brash and very current, and it takes place in Williamsburg, New York, which . . . is a complete mash-up of young, irreverent hipsters, old-school people, different nationalities, different ethnic backgrounds.”
King proudly said his show is daring but has a big heart. He thought he’d get the Season’s No. 1-rated New Series pass after successfully batting away that one question — though he threw in a “we’re an equal-opportunity offender” for good measure.
Earlier, TV critics asked CBS programming chief Nina Tassler about what they’ve called the show’s cringe-inducing diner scenes.
After saying that the show was an “equal opportunity offender” — apparently there had been a memo — Tassler said that CBS had urged King to continue to “dimensionalize, continue to get more specific, continue to build out” the other characters in the diner. Those characters include the Korean owner, the Russian cook and the black cashier.
“We do know how to build comedy hits. We’ve done that with all of the comedies that are on the air, and we’ll continue to do that to ‘2 Broke Girls,’ as well,” Tassler concluded.
An hour or so later, some critic asked King whether he would continue to “dimensionalize” the characters so they weren’t such stereotypes.
“Every character when born is a stereotype,” said King, seeming surprised that critics were continuing to question his judgment. He reminded them that Danny DeVito’s character on “Taxi” took a lot of short jokes.
A critic asked King: So the network has asked you to expand these characters so they aren’t so one-note?
“I don’t think the characters are one-note — I think the characters are the first note,” King said, reminding them that he has lots of experience being on shows for years. This was the first of many “Sex and the City” reminders to come.
One critic posed that question another way, wondering what the network asked him to do with the show. “Keep making the show the way you want to see it,” King shot back, growing more annoyed.
And so the long day wore on —King swinging and punching, TV critics working up a good lather.
“Are you happy” with the show?, one critic asked, seeming to pick up on the whole “the guy who did ‘Sex and the City’ ” thing.
“I’m thrilled,” King snapped.
Another critic asked King whether, as he develops the two lead characters, he sees the need to get away from making references to female genitalia and a certain sex act.
“We have never said that!” gasped Kat Dennings, who plays brunette hipster broke girl Max on the show. She got all Ladies of River City, which was strange, given some of the lines that have come out of her mouth on this series.
The critic insisted he’d heard a joke that implied those references on an episode of the show, which, the critic noted, airs at 8:30 p.m. — pretty early in prime time.
“Can I just correct you,” King sneered as he removed his kid gloves.
“It’s 8:30 on Monday on CBS in 2012. It’s a very different world than 8:30 on Mondays on CBS in 1994.”
Kapow! TV critics are old, and out of date!
“I consider our jokes really classy-dirty,” King said. “I think they’re highbrow lowbrow — funny and sophisticated and naughty, and I think everybody likes a good naughty joke,” he said.
“I feel no need to pull away from the brand of ‘2 Broke Girls,’ which is in-your-face. . . . I did ‘Sex and the City’ for many years,” he said.
That makes two “Sex and the City” reminders — speaking of old and out of date.
Ding! Ding! Ding! Time for a break, during which one critic asked an Occupy Wall Street question and another asked whether the show would open up in terms of the physical locations.
“He doesn’t want you to make [sexual] jokes, ma’am,” King hissed, referring to the session’s earlier mentions of a sex act.
The critics congealed in their chairs.
“See how it’s just like that. That’s how they really slip in!” King bragged — signaling the start of Round 2!
A couple of questions later, King noted that in the past three episodes, he had not written a single Asian joke — only made height jokes about Han, the diner owner. Then he wondered aloud if the critics would consider a “blonde rich [derogatory reference to a woman]” a stereotype or a “sarcastic-mouthed waitress” a stereotype.
Critics did not even feel that slap — they were way back at where King said he hadn’t done a single Asian racist gag in three whole episodes, confining himself to short jokes about Han.
“Does that mean you’re not going to go back to Asian stereotypes?” one critic asked, hopefully.
“I’m gay!” an exasperated King shouted, flinging himself around in his chair onstage. “I’m putting in gay stereotypes very week! . . . I don’t find it offensive, any of this. I find it comic to take everybody down!”
Another critic jumped on the pile, asking King whether being a member of one traditionally disenfranchised minority makes it okay for him to make fun of members of other disenfranchised minorities.
“Being a comedy writer gives you permission to be an outsider and poke fun at what you think about other people,” King riposted.
The critic asked about content restrictions the show has been given, specifically using an expression that’s been said on the show to describe a sex act.
The entire panel seemed taken aback. Dennings accused the critic of “talking about stuff that doesn’t exist.”
“Every conversation we’ve had about the edge of ‘2 Broke Girls’ is based on extreme wit,” King said modestly. “It’s a sharp wit. It’s about words. We seem to be offending people with the use of words rather than nudity,” he said, as if it were news to him that words could be offensive.
Ding! Ding! Ding! Time for another break! A critic asked about Chestnut the horse, whose real name is Rocky. And whom the stars and executive producers onstage love, love, love, because he’s almost like a puppy and sometimes makes them cry, he’s so sweet — and very protective of the girls, getting in the face of anyone who gets in their faces.
“I wish he was here right now,” King said, signaling the start of Round 3!
“I also love the horse,” said one critic before launching into another stab at clarifying the whole “dimensionalizing” thing. That was the tipping point for King: He got personal.
When King learned the critic has an Irish-sounding surname, King hurled an ethnic slur at him.
Honest, he really did. We can’t make this stuff up.
“Well, that was pleasant,” one critic mumbled to another when a CBS publicist officially ended the brawl.
After which, another TV critic proudly blogged that he had walked up to King afterward, offered his hand and apologized to King on behalf of all the critics for their having asked actual tough questions and held their ground when King responded dismissively and petulantly.
“Mr. King, I’m sorry things got so ugly there,” the critic blogged that he told King, adding, “but I want to say that it came from a place where a lot of us in the room like the parts of your show involving Kat and Beth, and want the rest of the show to live up to that.”
The critic was, we’re sorry to report, surprised when King did not give him a big ol’ hug. The critic blogged: “King, stone-faced, silently turns and walks off the stage.”